Photo credit: Stephen Posko with Hometrack Real Estate Marketing.

Dolores Deluxe and Vincent Peranio are rescuers.

She rescued stray animals. He rescued quirky objects and put them in John Waters movies. And the biggest thing they rescued together is the “Palace on Dallas,” a series of Fells Point alley houses that they’ve combined, renovated, decorated and entertained in over the past four decades.

“The Palace on Dallas really came to be as a refuge from being unemployed students and hippies and lucking into a place that nobody cared about, except us,” Deluxe explained in a 2008 YouTube video. 

YouTube video

“We rescue things. I rescued cats for years. We rescued these houses. We rescued this neighborhood. I really think that that’s a lot of my motivation, being a rescuer. It’s just good for the thing, that I save it. Stuff speaks to you or doesn’t. Lots of stuff speaks to us, literally.”

Dolores Deluxe and Vince Peranio

The result of their work is one of the most unusual homes in Baltimore. It’s four properties in a row, joined to create one residence that feels like a European villa, with a large Italian-style garden in the back. It’s been featured on house tours and in magazine articles and in a coffee table book on home design.

Photo credit: Stephen Posko with Hometrack Real Estate Marketing.

But it’s never been on the market, until now.

Over the past year, Deluxe and Peranio decided to downsize and sell the buildings they rescued, saying they don’t need so much room. They moved out last month to Tavira, a picturesque waterfront town on Portugal’s Algarve Coast. They tried out living there last year and liked it. They say the town, with its cobblestone streets and intimate scale, reminds them of Fells Point.

“It’s time for a new adventure for us,” Peranio said before the move.

Peranio said he and Deluxe like traveling and exploring historic places, and there’s no language barrier because most of the young people in Portugal learn to speak English in school.

He said he and Deluxe worried that if they stayed in Baltimore, they’d end up doing the same things day after day. But moving to another country means new people to meet and doors to open: “It’s stimulating.”

Although they contemplated the move before the coronavirus pandemic, Portugal has a much lower number of cases than the United States, and people there seem to be careful about obeying public health guidelines, Deluxe said. The move allows them to “take a hiatus from the insanity” in the U.S., she said.

This week, their property at 414 South Dallas Street was listed for sale by Dawson Nolley of Cummings & Co. Realtors, with a price of $549,000.

“Will I miss it? Every day of my life,” Deluxe said recently. “We’ve been together 50 years on this block. This is where we have 50 years of friends.”

“The whole property is a work of art,” said Nolley. “Every square inch has been labored over.”

Photo credit: Stephen Posko with Hometrack Real Estate Marketing.

It was a labor of love for Peranio, who recently turned 75. Besides playing one half of Lobstora in Multiple Maniacs (his brother Ed was the other half), Peranio was the production designer for all of John Waters’ movies from Pink Flamingos on. He was the production designer for other movies, commercials and TV shows filmed in Baltimore, too, including Barry Levinson’s 1999 movie, Liberty Heights, and David Simon’s series, ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ on NBC and ‘The Wire’ on HBO.

Originally from Arbutus, Deluxe has been a fashion designer, a retailer, a set director and a Fells Point preservation advocate. She calls herself a bon vivant and a “Hollywood wife.” In her 2008 YouTube video, she led a colorful tour of Fells Point, with stops at The Daily Grind and Peter’s Inn as well as the Palace on Dallas.

In the video, she encouraged viewers to get off the beaten path if they really want to learn about her neighborhood.

“We have quirky people with quirky shops,” she said. “We have fabulous architecture. We are still an East Coast European city. There are so few left, and that is what I like about our town. Just get off on the side roads and go to the little neighborhood.”

The property on Dallas Street includes the five properties at 410, 412, 414, 416 and 418 (410 and 412 were previously combined into one.)

“A work of art over four decades in the making,” Nolley’s listing says. “Four adjacent parcels form a truly unique home of meticulously-curated grandeur and alleyway elegance, a space created for both calm reflection and the hosting of many.”

Photo credit: Stephen Posko with Hometrack Real Estate Marketing.

Behind the houses, where the individual backyards used to be, is the garden. On one side, Peranio and Deluxe created an Italian-style loggia that provides room for outdoor dining, with an outdoor fireplace. A wisteria-covered garden folly is actually the cage where Fells Point’s Edith Massey, playing Aunt Ida, was imprisoned in Waters’ Female Trouble.

Photo credit: Stephen Posko with Hometrack Real Estate Marketing.

Before she and Peranio moved, Deluxe explained how the property evolved into the place it is today. She said it started with Peranio, a Baltimore native and graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. He was a painter when he met Waters and became part of Waters’ circle of friends and collaborators, known as the Dreamlanders.

Peranio initially worked with Waters when he was filming Multiple Maniacs in 1969-1970, and then with Pink Flamingos in 1970. Starting in 1970, he served as the production designer for all of Waters’ films, 10 in all.

Besides Pink Flamingos, the list includes Female Trouble, Desperate Living, Polyester, Hairspray, Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Pecker, Cecil B. Demented and A Dirty Shame. In his latest book, Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, Waters writes that he has even asked Peranio to design the marble headstone on his grave.

Peranio moved into one of the Dallas Street houses, 416, in 1974. He was living there when he met Deluxe.

“I was an artist, and I rented one of the little houses, a two-hundred-year-old building, for $50 a month,” he’s quoted as saying in the book with a chapter about the house. “When I met Dolores, I was nine months behind on my rent.”

After they became a couple, Deluxe said, she moved in too, and they eventually bought the house. But the building needed repairs, so they rented a house across the street while they were working on it. They were part of an early wave of renovators who helped preserve Fells Point.

When they were living across the street, they saw that the tenants had moved out of the house next to theirs, 414, and the pipes had broken. They approached the landlord about renting it and he agreed, for $100 a month. Deluxe said her father helped them renovate the second house so they could occupy it.

After some time, she said, the neighbors at 418 were getting older and wanted to move away and they bought that. Then the neighbor died at 410-412, and his grandchildren agreed to sell. Deluxe said she and Peranio didn’t have a grand plan but decided to buy the properties to protect their own investment, as much as anything else.

There have been changes over the years. Deluxe said the first house they lived in, an all-wood house, was eventually condemned by the city because of termite damage and had to be taken down. In its place, they created a parking pad.

When the wooden house was taken down, that left one house south of the parking pad and three north of it. The couple lived in the three connected buildings and used the one by itself as Peranio’s studio and storage space for movie props. Today, the house at 418 is essentially a shell that’s ready to be rehabbed, possibly as a second residence with access to the courtyard.

Deluxe, 71, downplays her role in the decades-long transformation.

“Vince is the one,” she said. “His buying and designing and fitting out these houses has been so much fun, and having a garden.” In terms of giving credit, she said, “he’s the one who did all the architectural design. I know how to clutter it up.”

Deluxe said some of their belongings have found new homes. Peranio’s archives have gone to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University. Most of their John Waters-related movie props, including the phone that Mink Stole used during the prank phone call scene with Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom, went to Noah Brodie, executor of the Divine estate and director of the Divine Museum in Burbank, California. Other items are built-in, including a set of Victorian doors from Desperate Living.

Photo credit: Stephen Posko with Hometrack Real Estate Marketing.
Photo credit: Stephen Posko with Hometrack Real Estate Marketing.

Deluxe said the house is being shown furnished, in case the buyer wants any of the contents. If not, she said, she’ll figure out what to do with them after the property is sold.

She’s philosophical about the move, saying she and Peranio have to be concerned about their health during the pandemic. Because of the coronavirus, she said, they weren’t even able to have a farewell party in the house that was designed for just that.

“Many people have been very upset by the thought of the Palace and the compound going away, and especially because we can’t have a big party,” she said. “But you have to look at your life periodically and see what’s best for you.

“Because we are in a no-contact situation, we had a 75th birthday Zoom instead of a 200-people party” for Peranio’s recent birthday, she said. “We’re not crazy.”

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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